Shay Lia is a stand-out artist whose versatile sound is set to champion the alternative R&B charts. The Montreal-based artist features on Kaytranada‘s CHANCES and LEAVE ME ALONE may have put her on the international radar, but her neo-R&B sound solidified her as one to watch. Lia’s versatility comes from her French-Djiboutian roots and a love for Afrobeats – each of which she shows off in her latest EP SOLARIS, meaning “of the sun” in Latin. The EP follows a successful run for the 27-year-old, who earned a Polaris Prize nomination for her 7-track project Dangerous in 2019. The independent singer-songwriter’s soulful offerings are often intertwined with relatable lyrics and distinctive vocals. SOLARIS further pushes the songstress towards playful Reggae and Pop-inspired riffs.
Lia embraces one of her main inspirations: Black women. She holds admiration for influential artists like Beyoncé and Tiwa Savage, and celebrates curves, Black hair textures and culture. With lyrics that set a sensual tone, paired with the musicality of producers like Phantom, who worked on Burna Boy’s Ye, Shay Lia’s latest venture brings happiness, culture and her own Solaris to the 2020 music stage.
Themes of self-love as a Black woman have popped up on your socials recently. Can you share how you reached this point?
Self love is the root of all love. I find it challenging to achieve it in our modern society, considering how we require things to be perfect in order for them to be relevant. It’s harder for Black women because we also have to confront racism, stereotypes, cultural appropriation and lack of appreciation. Seeing more representation in the media is beautiful progress but there’s still a long way to go.
How did you explore this in your EP, SOLARIS?
The songwriting process of SOLARIS was sort of a self-love ritual. Writing music is one of the few ways I get to truly connect with my inner self. The creation of the melodies on this project was very organic. When I start my songwriting process, I love to lose myself to the production so the melodies come spontaneously in the form of a freestyle. The happiness I feel when I know I’ve found the right melodies is incomparable. When I was working on SOLARIS it was the best escape from the growing, undeniable fear due to the pandemic.
Which track did you enjoy writing the most?
It’s hard to say because I really enjoyed working on all of them. I would give a special mention to All Up To You because it’s the first one I started to work on while I was still in Abidjan for Christmas. I was by the pool or on the beach working it. It was idyllic. Another one I loved working on was Irrational because it’s the only session I got to do with other human beings in the room! It happened in NYC at Michael Brun’s studio. It was just so much fun.
Talk us through some lyrics in Irrational
Irrational is a very playful song. The production was so sexy, explosive and fun that I wanted to convey that in the lyrics. I went for a song about this irrational behaviour many of us adopt during that weird phase when you’re not sure about the other person. You don’t know if you love them or not, if you guys are a couple or not. You want to be free, but at the same time, you can’t resist each other and it’s almost ridiculous and funny. It’s a bit of a homage to Rihanna’s song with Ne-Yo, Hate That I Love You. It’s similar in theme but mine is more playful and joyful. Of course, this type of behaviour IS toxic and I don’t recommend it!
What projects and artists influenced your sound today?
Musically I would say that Tiwa Savage has been a big inspiration of mine, and I’m so happy to see her killing it in the US right now! Beyoncé is always inspiring and she showed me that anything is possible with the Lion King album. I love the blend of Afrobeat and R&B. You get the best of both worlds! Anderson .Paak inspired me too. I’ve discovered incredible Nigerian artists like Oxlade with Away, Rema and Adekunle Gold. I love Rosalía too. Her energy is incredible!
What keeps you inspired when writing music?
The music itself is my main inspiration. That’s why I’m so picky when it comes to beats or collaborations. I feel it in my stomach if I love a beat and everything will come from that. I love to sing about love because it will always be inspiring. Our behaviour and complex feelings as human beings are fascinating to me. I love writing inspirational songs too! It keeps me going and I know that people need to feel empowered. Empowering women is important to me. I like being super sassy or super honest in my lyrics, even though it means being vulnerable. I remember writing about the refugee crisis a few years ago. I’m just a young Black woman in this world trying to figure it out, and I put it in my songs.
Have you filmed any accompanying visuals?
Yes, I’ve worked with Caraz. This time we had this idea of creating a performance video that would reflect what was on my mind when I worked on SOLARIS. I chose the song Love Me, Love Me Not to do so. This song is very sensual. The melodies are very R&B. It reminds me a bit of Rock The Boat by Aaliyah.
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